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Simon Vilensky

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Till my Tale is Told; Women's Memoirs of the Gulag by Simon Vilensky gives an incredibly touchy and candid insight into the suffering at the Gulag camps during the regime of Stalin. This is enhancing the fact that Simon Vilensky is a former prisoner of the Gulag system.

Till My Tale Is Told is a translated and reduced version of the Russian work published in the Soviet Union in 1989. The book intention was to be first in a series of collections, and the entire volume devotion to women's memoirs. It was offering a candid and easy-to-relate-with introduction to a horrific world. Many of the parties giving confession knew each other, at least slightly, something that gives the book a feeling of being a unique collaborative effort.

Only handful contributors describe the whole experience of arrest, interrogation and, serving the sentence. Some are just about a single episode or a number, while others were in the form of poetry. There was a notable interest in the prisoners' attempts to understand the disaster that had overtaken them. Read a chapter to chapter, the content is sentimental due to the cruel did that it has. 

People who do research mainly want to consult the Russian version, or at a time, that has the real materials which are in Moscow or Amsterdam. They contain a vivid introduction and their translation writings are easy to understand. Moreover, this book comes in handy as an English translated version of the record of events as experienced in the Gulag camps.

The book comprises of sixteen riveting life stories; all a showing the uncertainty of the spirit of a human being, show of miracles of survival and endurance in the worst conditions. This book reminds us of how vital it is to remember and give testimony about that particularly brutal phase of human history.

The gulag system in the Soviet Union was to contain political prisoners. They may not have been as evil as concentration camps in the Holocaust, but they were extremely the same thing. If the authority did discover that one was saying or doing anything that was against the government, this is where they would end up.

The Gulag was the government agency that administered forced labor for prisoners in the camp till 1961. Also, note that the camps nicknames were the 'Gulags', after the authority and ended up becoming a vast network of forced labor camps as years progressed.

Gulag did not start as a government system but, as the Soviet forced labor penal system. Later, the concentration camps creation in the Soviet Union shortly after the 1917 revolution, but the system kept growing fast during the campaign of Stalin so as to introduce modern source of power to the industries in the Soviet Union.

The entire regime outlines by experiences such as arrest, interrogation, imprisonment, trial and sentencing, labor camps, internal exile, sometimes release and transportation. The re-arrest and re-imprisonment may follow for the survivors who are later going through rehabilitation. All these are candidly records by 16 courageous Russian women who have saddening testimonies. Most of them wrote in secret and at considerable personal risk, are present here.

In the Gulag History, Lynne Viola related the tales of brutality and harrowing times of the so-called “kulaks”–peasants kidnapped up by the Soviet state in the early 1930s and exiled to horrific conditions in the geographic extremes of the Soviet Union. (Lynne Viola) 

All the ladies contributing to the sixteen chapters suffered severe hardships, for no good reason, at the mercy of the Soviet state. Amazingly, they never gave up their passion of writing their experiences even after their release from prison.

The infamous Gulag camps existed all over the Soviet Union, but the largest camps location is in the most extreme geographical and climatic regions of the country. Political prisoners did engage in a variety of economic activities. They did manual work, which did not require skills to work for low wages. The poor work conditions and, hardships led to the spread of infections and high death rates in the camps.

Despite the fact, of Stalin death, the harassment and, poor work environment did not elapse in the Gulag camps. Prisoners had to carry on with the mistreatment in the Soviet Union right up to the Gorbachev era. The level of brutality was and remained so high that anyone caught with so much as a nail in his or her possession faces jail for one year. In the columns of Izvestya and Pravda are record sentences of one year’s imprisonment in the following cases: A worker caught with a lump of bronze, a driver with a few pounds of candy, a woman-worker with “13 meters of burlap”, another with cookies and sugar and, a worker with “two English locks.”

Women immensely suffered in the Prisons as male employees; security personnel did rape and abuse them. At the same time, some female prisoners took on “camp husbands” for protection from all the violence and brutality and companionship. Some were pregnant on arrival while others did conceive while in the Gulag. Sometimes, these women would get their freedom with their children in exceptional seasons.

More often, mothers had little abatement so as to deliver. Their babies in isolation from them and put in distinct children homes. Frequently, these women did not succeed in locating their children after leaving the oppression camps. (Vilensky, Till my tale is told, 1999, 1-11.)

“Arrival at the corrective labor camp turned out to be the culmination of the humiliation. First they were to expose their nudity then led to a seclusion place. Above their heads, the stars twinkled; below their feet that did froze due to cold temperatures.

An enclosure measured 3 square feet. Each held three to four naked, shivering, and frightened men and women. Then these kennel cages' were open one after the other, and the naked people were to pass across a court yard the camp version of a foyer into a distinctive building where formulation of their documents took place.'(Vilensky, Till my tale is told, 1999, 58.)

The goal of these random searches was to leave them with rags and take anything of value in their possession for themselves. The guards conducted them in groups of ten and seemed to have one goal; to fleece them of every valuable item in total disregard of their destitute and, barely-alive situation. The even more satirical part is the vocabulary used in the whole setting. Words like “corrective” which was to change the way they felt and feel better, “labor” should enable them economically and a “camp” should certainly not refer to a jail! (Vilensky, Till my tale is told, 1999, 12-32.)

A further ordeal of the situation is that given by Zoya; “The night search and, the frequent repeat was the most degrading procedure. “Get up! Get undressed! Hands up! Out into the hall! Line up against the wall.” Naked we were especially in fright. Our hair was shaggy. What were they looking for? What more could they take away from us? However, they were pulling out all the ties that had been holding up the nuns' skirts and our underwear.” (Vilensky, Till my tale is told, 1999, 7-35.) 

The Soviet Gulag was the symbol of the Stalin regime. As, the case in the Nazi camps the Soviet ones, started to solve a particular political problem; how to eliminate undesired elements from the society at large, and then gradually formed a life of their own, sometimes becoming the driving force of policy rather than a tool of it.

The horrors found hidden underneath silence that long protected both systems from public examination are in many ways similar. The only difference that stood out all along was that the design of Nazi camps that are to exterminate whole groups of people, while the Gulag camps were a political weapon meant to extend control of one country.

Under Stalin the camp population steadily increased to around two million by the time of his death. An estimate of 18 million prisoners passed through the camps during his era. The important way in which they differed from the German camps, as pointed out, is that most people left them alive, if battered and scarred both physically and mentally.

The other key difference is that most of the Soviet prisoners were ordinary criminals, not political opponents. Following the death of Stalin in 1953, Beria started shutting down the camps citing their economic efficiency and this of course came as a huge relieve to the whole country.

The main myth in the system of Soviet was that the camps highest percentage was the anti-communist dissidents. In the 1930s, few prisoners were "political" and most of them were guiltless, the victims of malicious denunciation. Further about this distinction is that the development of the Soviet criminal system came to define the most trivial offenses as fatal. In 1947, the State Theft Law main aim was to protect the population from hunger and, to stop exploitation of these camp prisoners.

Experiences of punishment, torture, rape, enforced prostitution, self-mutilation when deranged the goners' who left to die of disease or starvation and, the madness was to leave readers with the stomach to digest such details. Even the faint-hearted should rejoice at the stories of genuine heroism that emerge from the Stygian darkness.

To rise in such circumstances must, even allowing for the recklessness of despair, have to take extraordinary courage. There were men bold or mad enough to circulate pamphlets calling for uprisings and freedom. At the Kengir camp, there was a strike - led by a committee that included a common criminal as well as the usual political prisoners, which at least hastened the end of the whole foul system.


However, the women did manage to keep their hope alive that all the suffering would soon end for a number of reasons. They were extremely aware that the hate speech against each other was mere political propaganda aimed at dividing them. The leadership tried their best to break personal ties between the citizens but the suffering in the camps only served to reunite them as they underwent similar conditions. It also all heightened during Stalin's regime, and they hoped that things would become better after his exit from power. (Vilensky, Till my tale is told, 1999, 46.)

All in all, the book brings out probably the easiest to relate with narration of the state of the Gulag system and camps, sufferings to the worst hit gender, female, and, their ordeals during and after the life in the camps, their pain, hope and wishes about the future. Not only does the whole story come out as authentic as one can be but also one worth reading alongside the history of the Soviet and Nazis.

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